Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Should the Cubs Retire #21?

The once-heralded Sammy Sosa is reportedly saying the Chicago Cubs should retire his old jersey number. According to ESPN.com:
"That number should be untouchable because of the things that I did for that organization," Sosa said in an interview with Chicago Magazine. "That right there shows me that they don't care about me, and they don't want to have a good relationship with me."
This is, remember, the same Sammy Sosa who put up incredible statistics with the Cubs. He hit 609 career home runs -- most of which with the Cubs. He had three season -- again, with the Cubs -- where he hit an absurd 60 or more home runs. He has a career .370 wOBA, which is good enough 126 wRC+ -- or, in other words, about 26% above average. However, with the Cubs, his median and mode wRC+ was much more like 160.

He was a beast.

He was the face of the Cubs, as well. He was on Pepsi adds, billboards, and promos. When Sammy made contact with a pitch and did his little hop, the crowd became a screaming choir of Sammy's cathedral. For a short, glimmering time, Sammy Sosa was Chicago.

He was also, from what we can ascertain from the leaked 2003 drug test results, bending the rules. This, in retrospect, is highly unsurprising. The infamous home run chase between he and Mark McGuire both filled stadiums and defied reality.

So should this tainted superstar get to see his number waving in the wind above Wrigley Field? I honestly don't know. Sammy was my hero growing up. For many of us, he was a gateway drug into baseball.

But, here's my problem. Sammy was great, and he added a lot of lore and culture to the Cubs. But he also added a lot of negative lore and culture as well. I'm really heartbroken by how things played out for Sosa, but it's really hard to rationalize matching his name with:
Ernie Banks (14), Ron Santo (10), Ryne Sandberg (23), Billy Williams (26), Greg Maddux (31), Fergie Jenkins (31)[, and] Jackie Robinson's No. 42...

Friday, August 6, 2010

The State of Zambrano

This Monday, Carlos Zambrano will be giving us a sliver of a reason to actually watch because he will be starting!!! (And for those who haven't been watching, neither have I; the TV rating have been collapsing just like our record has been.)

So Zambrano will be starting, which givers hopers some chance to hope and haters a chance to hate... some more. According to the probable pitchers section on the official Cubs.com site:
This will be Zambrano's first start since that fateful June 25 game when he threw a tantrum, was sent home, and eventually underwent treatment for anger issues. He will be limited to 75-80 pitches. His velocity has been better.
Zambrano, to many, has been a disappointment since last season. Of course, people who thought Carlos Zambrano was disappointing in 2009 are often the ignorant type who use wins to gauge a starter's quality. His 2009 season actually gave many of us a glimmer of hope that he was indeed still a quality pitcher.

In reality, Zambrano had been an average pitcher for years. Since 2006, he has had average-ish xFIPs and high LOB percentages, meaning his low-to-excellent ERAs and high wins were functions of luck, and likely little else.

Let's look at the statistics for Cub Carlos here:

       xFIP   LOB%   ERA
2002   4.15   72.8   3.66
2003   3.82   73.0   3.11
2004   3.88   79.1   2.75
2005   3.54   75.0   3.29
2006   4.20   75.6   3.41
2007   4.62   74.9   3.95
2008   4.45   73.4   3.91
2009   4.27   71.9   3.77
2010   4.33   66.9   5.61

League average for LOB% is usually around 70.5% to 72.0%. Really, anything outside of that little normal-luck range is pretty much going to come back to earth. Carlos Zambrano's career LOB% is 73.9%, meaning he has -- more than likely -- been pretty lucky. There are cases, however very rare, where a pitcher performs better out of the stretch and in turn can have some rare LOB% "skill."

Either way, his current LOB of 66.9% will not and cannot continue. Several of my colleagues -- whose opinions I trust and whose perspectives are very valuable to me -- have suggested that Carlos is broken and has been broken for several years. This possibility makes 2009 an aberration of improvement. I however, see a lower LOB% (one within our realistic range, no less) and an improved xFIP. Therefore, I think that Zambrano is not broken, but neither is he the next Cy Young incarnate (who was left-handed anyway).

This year is a different story though. I honesetly think that Z's 2010 campaign has been sabotaged -- read: sabotaged -- by the whims and reactions of a Cubs regime that does not employ statistics to cool the fickle flames of the human heart.

I think Carlos is still promising. He is young yet and will be a decent-to-good pitcher, if he's given more than 40-ish innings to prove himself (which is all he received as a starter thus far in 2010). I think he will be okay; however, we still have to be concerned by some elements of his game -- namely his steadily decreasing velocity. In his peak in 2004 and 2005, Zambrano's fastball was around 93 mph. That velocity has since dropped to a flat 91 mph. For some pitchers, 2 mph and mean the difference between a Hall of Fame career and no career. For Zambrano, I believe it is the difference between an All-Star and an innings-eater. I think that's okay. I think 4.33 xFIP is okay too. It's about average, but with a 66.9% LOB, we can expect it to become above average very soon.

In summation: the state of Carlos Zambrano is not as desperate as the press wants us to think. The press wants a villain -- because villains are easily made and they are paper-sellers. But if we give Carlos Zambrano a chance, I think Z will be Big.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Beware of Thomas Diamond's Return

Thomas Diamond is not returning to the major leagues this week -- he cannot return to a place he's never been. Instead, he's going to be returning to earth -- where he had been until this year. Because of the Lilly trade and because of the now ineffable resistance to moving Andrew Cashner to his rightful spot in the rotation, the Cubs have summoned the once-Texas Ranger Thomas Diamond from AAA to see if he can bring his nifty 3.15 ERA to the majors.

This will not happen.

Let's look at his numbers:

                    ERA    FIP    MLE FIP  HR/FB%  BABIP
Diamond, AAA '10    3.15   4.09    4.79    6.8%    .270

Diamond's FIP (or Fielding Independent Pitching, a great predictor of future success) is good. It's -- in fact -- above average. However, if we use Minor League Splits' Major-League Equivalent algorithm, we obtain a much less exciting 4.79 FIP. This is below average. Still, if we assume that 2010 is a bust year for the Cubs, then at least we get to audition some young talent and see if we can find some, er, diamonds.

But that's not the end of the story, tragically. He also has been on the fortunate side of luck. His low HR/FB% and his BABIP indicate that he's nervously watched many should-be-home-run balls knick off fences or slip behind foul poles and should-be-hits lined into gloves of wide-eyed infielders. Using Minor League Splits luck neutralizing algorithm, we can expect that -- perhaps given a full season in AAA this year -- Thomas Diamond would end with a FIP closer to 4.39, or pretty close to average.

Average in AAA sadly and often means piss-poor in the MLB.

How much fun is it to watch James Rusell or Justin Berg pitch? If you answered, "Very fun!" then I've got some great news for you: Mr. Diamond will gave you the same fun every fifth day!

If for some reason you don't like watching Cubs pitchers turning around and watching balls sail through the night, then you might find watching Thomas Diamond somewhat of a tribulation.

This makes me ask: Why then not just move Andrew Cashner to the rotation? Perhaps this is a precursor to this move (bullpen pitchers typically have to build their durability before they can start), which I'd be okay with. But if not, then what about Sean Marshall, who already sports a nifty xFIP in the 2's and has improved immensely over the last three years. Moreover, the last time he was a full time starter -- some three years ago -- he gave us an acceptable 4.50ish xFIP, which is the absolute best and most optimistic output that Diamond will give us.

Oh well, these are just the statistics, and since when have the Cubs listened to the statistics?